There are three stages of menopause: perimenopause (before), menopause (during), post menopause (after). Sometimes medical issues can result in early menopause. Menopause can be triggered by things like a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries), and some cancer treatments.
Perimenopause: This is the three-to-five-year timeframe before menopause, when oestrogen levels begin to drop. This is usually in your late 40s and tends to contribute to irregular periods. You may also experience symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, irritability and depression, vaginal dryness, and urinary issues. There is still the possibility of becoming pregnant at this time, so that’s still something to be aware of.
Menopause: The technical definition of having reached menopause is when you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months without other causes like medication or pregnancy. Moving from perimenopause through to post menopause can take several years, but it can be different for everyone. The other symptoms experienced in perimenopause still apply but may be more acute.
Post menopause: This is usually described as the time after that one-year mark has passed since your last period. It’s not unusual to continue having the various symptoms already mentioned for a while post menopause. In addition, as a result of lower oestrogen levels, there can be an increased risk of heart disease, osteopenia (loss of bone mass) and osteoporosis (fragile bones).
What are the first signs of starting the menopause?
Menopause usually starts between the ages of 45 and 55, when oestrogen levels begin to decline. Most reach menopause around 51 but some (roughly one in 100 women), experience menopause before turning 40. The first sign is usually a change in your periods - they may become irregular or unusually light or heavy.